wrapping up their tour at the Hollywood Bowl last night with Sonic Youth and No Age…
by WILL ENO
There was a time, back when the world was greener and the whole nation seemed to be turning 23, when we needed a leader who wouldn’t lead too much, we wanted a savior who had other stuff going on. This was, in layman’s terms, the 1990s.
The markets were beginning to rise and though we were not beneficiaries in any major way, some of us at least had a story about getting a 50 dollar tip on a 20 dollar tab. In other scene-setting details, the strange dust of Desert Storm was settling and O.J. Simpson was getting testy. It was mainly summertime, those years, and there seemed, in retrospect, to be an eerily normal amount of noise around. Conditions on the ground and in the air—if you can detect these things in real time, and you can’t—were perfect. In rode, many would say, the rock band Pavement.
Stylistically speaking, in terms of clothing, they arrived in shirts and pants and shoes (there’s really no other way to say it). They had haircuts, but it didn’t really look it. While other bands were mumbling or over-enunciating their dreary positions or penny-candy philosophies, Pavement kind of screamed for a generation. But they did it in a way that was so deeply American that it was almost Scandinavian. Or, if they spoke for a generation, they spoke for it out of the sides of their mouths, which gave the generation a little leeway, some wiggle-room to get older in.
Looking back on the band—its history, records and general approach to life and music—an argument could be gently made that they were one of the greatest rock bands ever. Or, the most real rock band ever. Or the only something-something in recent memory. Certainly, a range of critics and streets and prairies full of fans have claimed that Slanted and Enchanted is the best rock album of the ‘90s.
I mention all of these possibilities to Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg. “It’s kind of funny to think that we are a band in the history of music,” is his unassuming response. “I’m not a musician, ?per se?,” says band member Bob Nastanovich, among other equally modest things, over the phone, while making “a big pot of chili.” Singer and main songwriter Stephen Malkmus is similarly disarming: “The proof is in the pudding of the records and how they sound, how they sound today. We can be up there. We have our niche, a niche, in what’s going on and music history. I don’t know about ‘great bands,’ or whatever.”
Having gotten a sense of the tone and temperature of these three, one can only assume that drummer Steve West, currently playing with his band Marble Valley, and bassist Mark Ibold, who’s been playing with Sonic Youth for the last few years, would display a similar humility and sense of proportion when pressed with any of these claims of greatness.
There is a group of undoubtedly decent and intelligent people who’ve never heard of Pavement.* There is another group who’ll say things like, “Pavement songs are like my own personal On Kawara ‘Date Paintings.’ There is a third and larger group for whom neither response rings any bells. So, for their sake, Pavement was a rock music band in the 1990s, quintessentially. They released five critically acclaimed albums, some selling in the hundreds of thousands, toured extensively, possibly ruined Lollapalooza, avoided eye-contact with Jay Leno, and then disbanded in 1999-2000.
On Kawara is a contemporary painter who made a series of paintings informally called the “Date Paintings.” They are small black paintings, completed in one day, on which On Kawara carefully painted the day’s date, and nothing more. May 7, 1975, for instance. You can probably think of others. In our famous world of flux and change, he wanted to create at least one unchanging and non-revisable thing. And for some of us, the songs on Pavement’s records serve this purpose: we remember exactly where we were the first time that we heard a song, all of the joys and pains that came without musical accompaniment in between, and, exactly where we were, the last time. Presidents have come and gone, new stars have burst on to the pro tennis circuit and everything has gotten older. The march of time has amplified feelings and filled in meanings in a way that disciplined analysis could never do.
Those paintings are also sometimes collectively referred to as “Todays,” which is a worthwhile word. I mentioned On Kawara to Malkmus, and he says, “My wife’s a big fan of his. I don’t really understand it, really. There’s something about it that really moves her. I guess I can see it.” His response is almost immediate, as if I had said something about Picasso or Norman Rockwell. To think that Sarah Palin thought that, “What magazines do you read?” was an example of gotcha-journalism. Malkmus adds, “I appreciate the wide-ranging cultural knowledge of our fan base. That’s cool, no matter what.”
the article continues…